The Cleveland Cavaliers need to drop what they’re doing and join Dorothy and company on their trip to the Emerald City. It’s obvious after Tuesday night’s 120-88 loss in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals — this team has no heart.
Add in some of the bad decisions — on and off the court — and the complete lack of aggression the team has shown for most of the series against the Boston Celtics, and it may be in need of a brain and some courage, too.
Even the almighty Wizard of Oz might not be able to save the city of Cleveland from its latest sports disappointment.
The Cavs put together the best record in the NBA for the second straight season, and have a near all-star lineup in place for what should have been a dominating and lengthy postseason run.
They are led by two-time defending league MVP LeBron James. Patrolling the paint is 15-time All-Star and four-time NBA champ Shaquille O’Neal. Sharpshooters Mo Williams and Anthony Parker sit out on the perimeter, and do-everything forward Antawn Jamison rounds out the starting five.
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Add in former starters Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Delonte West, All-NBA secondteam defender Anderson Varejao and top 3-point shooter Daniel Gibson on the bench, and you have a roster that should have no problem finding ways to win playoff games and series.
But James has struggled mightily during most of the series, making poor passing decisions in the last two games and refusing to attack the basket on a regular basis.
James and the Cavs showed they did have the answer to the Celtics during a 124-95 win in Game 3, but inexplicably refused to follow that game plan in Games 4 and 5.
On Tuesday, James drove into the lane but kicked the ball out instead of taking the shot during the early going.
He received a pass in the paint with no Celtics defenders near him, but passed the ball out to Delonte West on the wing instead of powering his way to the rim as he had done many times during his 38-point performance in Game 3.
When James finally felt the urgency to start taking shots, he missed them badly. He went 3-of-14 from the floor — missing all four 3-point attempts— and scored just 15 points for his fourth-lowest playoff point total. James looked lost late in Game 5, often getting the ball on the perimeter, passing it to a teammate and then standing beyond the arc and watching the action near the basket.
If James looked lost on the court, coach Mike Brown looked twice as confused over at the Cavs bench. Just a year removed from winning the league’s Coach of the Year award, Brown seems to be struggling with his substitutions and hasn’t been able to properly motivate his players on either end of the floor.
Brown has been pegged as a defensive prodigy — studying under guru Gregg Popovich in San Antonio — but has strained to find ways to stop speedy point guard Rajon Rondo. The Cavs finally did hold Rondo in check during the first half of Game 5, but Brown put defensively inept Williams and Daniel Gibson, who had played about six minutes in the series, on Rondo in the third quarter and the Celtics exploded for 12 points and four assists as the Celtics pulled away.
Brown also put Ilgauskas in the game for a significant amount of time — the backup played five minutes in Game 1 — and Ilgauskas responded with five points, three rebounds and four blocked shots in just over 10 first-half minutes.
The move proved to be solid, but brought about the question of why Brown hadn’t been utilizing the 7-foot-3 center during the past three games.
The Cavs were outrebounded 41-31 in Game 5. The Celtics had more assists in the game. The Cavs had 17 turnovers to the Celtics’ 10.
The Cavs just didn’t look like a team that had the passion it needed to win another game in this series, let alone an NBA title.
If James, Brown and the crew can’t find the missing components of their game soon, it will be the Celtics moving on to face the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference finals and the Cavs and their fans will be left shaking their heads after another disappointing finish to an NBA season.
The Cavs will then face a potentially bigger loss as James mulls his free agency, and there are many who believe he won’t be returning to Cleveland next season.
The Cavs have to keep their fingers crossed, hope James clicks the heels of his Zoom LeBron shoes together and remembers some of the most important words spoken on the silver screen.
There’s no place like home.
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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